Since its inception in 1970 the Portland Trail Blazers franchise has known two owners. After shedding a couple of partners early on, Larry Weinberg held the team through 1988. That's when Portland's current owner stepped in and changed the Blazers forever.
Back in the late 80's Paul Allen was a young, fresh-faced, Microsoft-born billionaire. That's with a "b". Nowadays you can't swing a solid platinum, gem-encrusted Cartier cat figurine around an NBA meeting room without hitting a billionaire owner upside the head but back then few people had direct knowledge that billionaires even existed. People knew Bill Gates. There was some guy in Saudi Arabia somewhere, right? But that was it. Now out of the shadows came one of the richest men in the world looking to scoop up the Blazers.
Folks worried at first. What would such an unfathomably wealthy, powerful guy do with the team? Was this an investment move alone? Would he be looking to move our beloved team to some private island for personal shows? Or worse...to California?!?
Then they saw him.
"Wait. That's what a billionaire looks like? Oh. We were kind of expecting, I don't know, diamond-shimmering moonbeams behind the head or something. Sir, do you live in a Batcave? If I had that kind of money I'd live in a Batcave with the poles and big computers and everything. No? Outskirts of Seattle? Spent your early years working in Vancouver across the river and loving the team? Oh. OK. Well, have fun then. Just don't change the logo."
Folks hung around for a while to see if there would be a circus, if the guy would drop $800,000,000 getting David Robinson or something. Once they figured out that salary caps (somewhat) constrained even the ultra-rich they mostly went home and went about their business.
The lack of initial drama can't disguise the massive impact Allen has had on the franchise in the two decades since. Having that rich and (apparently) that committed of an owner has allowed Portland latitude to acquire any reasonable player on the market. Even in 2011 if there are more than two teams rumored to be interested in a player the Trail Blazers are all but guaranteed to be on that list. Allen's approach has given Blazers fans a sense of entitlement shared by only the biggest of big-city teams. Knicks and Lakers fans expect every player to desire playing for their clubs. Portland fans suspect any player can eventually be bought. I'm comfortably sure that mindset doesn't exist in Milwaukee or New Orleans.
The underpinnings of the Drexler glory years were set before Allen came on board. He had the good fortune to know nearly-unbridled success in his first few seasons as Portland's owner. His biggest early move was the Sam Bowie for Buck Williams trade already listed as the 8th most pivotal event in franchise history. That trade catapulted the Blazers into elite status and evidently whetted Allen's appetite for the perfect deal.
The second significant move of Allen's early tenure was luring superstar general manager Bob Whitsitt from the Seattle Supersonics in 1994. Whitsitt oversaw the dismantling of the Drexler teams, including trading or waiving every beloved iconic player therefrom within a span of two years. Allen's deep pockets and fondness for deal-making allowed "Trader Bob" to re-shape the team in his own image. Now came the days of the nine-digit payroll, of near-annual arrivals of big names like Scottie Pippen and Steve Smith, Dale Davis and Shawn Kemp. Once again the Blazers ascended the heights, not to the same extent as they had with Drexler but to a couple of Conference Finals appearances heralded by plenty of national press.
Continuing to spend freely while chasing the dream ushered in the Jailblazers era where mismatched talent and lack of character typified the Blazers' mise-en-scene. Allen's billions and itchy fingers--either his own or by extension through his GM's--paved the slow road to hell for a model franchise.
Allen also built the Rose Garden arena on his own dime, financing it in the 90's at terms which would lead to disaster in a different economy a decade later. Paying triple the interest of your Average Joe in the mid-2000's, sinking under the red ink of horrific contracts on the basketball side, Allen would put the arena into bankruptcy, adding to a blizzard of negative publicity. Murmuring uncertainties about the future of the team, Allen would assume the role of Portland's central villain previously reserved for incorrigible players and arrogant executives.
Allen's quick trigger finger paid dividends once again in 2006 when a consortium of front office minds, notably including young executive Kevin Pritchard, pulled off 6 trades on draft day, netting Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge and ushering in the next positive era for the team. Known as a "hands on" owner when it came to player selections, Allen had not seen draft success for more than a decade. Now he raked in a stack of riches, redeeming both his public image and the team's in one fell swoop.
Over the years Allen has reportedly taken huge losses supporting his Trail Blazers habit and feeding that of the fans. He's been a quiet but influential figure in both rounds of CBA negotiations between NBA players and owners. Even the General Managers he runs through frequently these days have labeled him the best owner, and one of the most involved, in professional sports.
Love him or hate him--and Blazer fans seem to alternate between each end of that spectrum depending on the season and situation--Paul Allen has been more influential than any single figure in Portland Trail Blazers history. He doesn't have the immediate-moment credibility of Harry Glickman closing the deal to create the team, Bill Walton hoisting a title, or Kevin Pritchard drafting Greg Oden instead of Kevin Durant but if you measure out effect over time this franchise has been shaped indelibly by its owner and his riches. The fortunes of the Trail Blazers changed forever when Paul Allen purchased them. That makes him buying the team the third most pivotal event on our list.